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Multidecadal Water Mass Dynamics on the West Greenland Shelf

New publication by J. Mortensen, S. Rysgaard, M. H. S. Winding, T. Juul-Pedersen , K. E. Arendt, H. Lund, A. E. Stuart-Lee, and L. Meire


The waters on the West Greenland continental shelf and slope play an important role in the global climate system with their link to the subpolar North Atlantic Ocean circulation system and the Greenland Ice Sheet. Lately, low temperature waters on the West Greenland shelf have been observed as far south as ∼64°N and associated with a cold and relatively saline water mass originating north of Davis Strait in Baffin Bay referred to as Baffin Bay Polar Water (BBPW). Here we use long, seasonal hydrographic time series from West Greenland at ∼64°N to study how frequently BBPW is reaching this far south. The analysis covers the period 1950–2018 with a data gap between 1988 and 2005. BBPW was observed frequently and was responsible for the temperature changes observed in the late 1960s–1980s and more intermittently post-2008. Some of the large temperature changes we observe in the time series have previously been ascribed to “Great Salinity Anomalies” (GSAs) propagating around the subpolar North Atlantic Ocean circulation system. The prevailing view of the propagation of GSAs has been ascribed to advection of anomalies along the large-scale circulation system. Our study shows that BBPW may play an important role in the interpretation of GSAs and melt of the Greenland Ice Sheet. Large temporal temperature changes at ∼64°N are associated with arrival of BBPW from the north and not advection of anomalies with the large-scale current system from the south. This advocates for a shift in water masses caused by changes in the position and/or strength of oceanic currents.